so about that 15 hour workweek
June 13, 2020 11:33 PM   Subscribe

The 15-hour working week predicted by Keynes may soon be within our grasp – but are we ready for freedom from toil?

From the article:
Work is distributed unequally, and perversely, in other dimensions as well. And yet, in the English-speaking countries at least, this has not meant more leisure so much as more time in retirement, unemployment or otherwise involuntarily excluded from the labour force. The result has been an inequality of leisure, the counterpart to the growing inequality of income. Particularly in the US, families are becoming polarised. On the one hand there is the two-income class of economically successful couple households in which both partners work full-time or more. On the other is the zero-income class, with one or two adults dependent either on welfare benefits or else on intermittent and insecure low-wage employment.

If work was distributed more equally, both between households and over time, we could all be better off. But it seems impossible to achieve this without a substantial reduction in the centrality of market work to the achievement of a good life, and without a substantial reduction in the total hours of work.
Whatever happened to Keynes' 15-hour working week? (2008)

Keynes Predicted We Would Be Working 15-Hour Weeks. Why Was He So Wrong?

Why 3-hour workdays haven't happened yet (2015)

It's time to put the 15-hour workweek back on the agenda (2018)
posted by MoonOrb (110 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Anglosphere has been hijacked by the corporations and the capitalist elites, they have decided that they are the ones to take all the gains from increased productivity. Thatcher and Reagan, they sowed these seeds and they have been thriving for 40+ years now. So happy that the new people are returning to the spirit of the 1960s, willing to radically question the status quo.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:30 AM on June 14 [65 favorites]


Oh wow, so I started putting software developers at 60% time, meaning 40% is for bugs, meetings, misc. but 60% is dedicated to the sprint (some people really hate the idea of a locked sprint because they want developers to take things off the backlog, I’ve never seen developers not busy or things not come up in a sprint, but that’s a different story).

People go. Absolutely. Nuts. Except I get my sprints and my numbers and anything that “comes up” that absolutely has to be dealt with isn’t a huge “what do we throw out of the sprint discussion” within reason it can be taken on. And my sprints are ready to go to production, completely big free. I don’t know whether the perception is developers are sitting around doing nothing or what, and I often work with large software projects where one change might seem minor but it means updating 5 complex systems to accommodate it and suddenly a quick update requires a 15 minute compile to test locally.

In any case high quality, on time, able to accommodate emergency requests are all things people want until they see there’s 40% “missing” from the budget. So no, I do not foresee a 15 hour work week. I see the opposite trend happening. Unless it is government mandated it will continue.
posted by geoff. at 1:08 AM on June 14 [18 favorites]


Hey, 25 hours a week in which to abolish the cops. Win/win
posted by transitional procedures at 1:42 AM on June 14 [25 favorites]


I'm sitting here smug with my 37.5 hour work week and 5 weeks of yearly holidays and am horrified at what people in similar positions (SW developer) in the US have to go through. Our productivity is pretty similar to our American colleagues, since we're not put through the wringer on a weekly basis. But this fact is totally lost on the employers, and has only come into effect due to collective bargaining and government protections.

A couple of months ago I looked through what I could find from online archives how the debate has been here in Norway every time work hours have been reduced or holiday time has been increased. I don't recall exactly the numbers any more, but we went approximately in increments from 9 hours per day to 8 and then 7.5, and the work week has gone from 6 days to 5.5 (half Saturdays) to 5 days, and holidays in the last generation has gone from 3 weeks to 4 weeks to 4 weeks/2 days to 5 weeks. And at every single turn in the last 100 years or so the employer's organizations have been in the media lamenting how the country will surely go bankrupt, and how we can't afford to lag behind all those other countries holding their workers to the grindstone.

I think a look at Norway will be proof enough that 37.5 hours/week and five weeks of holidays will not bankrupt a modern society. If you think we're a fluke, look at the other European nations with similar systems.

I think part of the problem is that workaholic shells of human beings are being promoted at a much faster rate than more balanced individuals, and end up sitting at the top wondering why their 75 hour workweek won't work for everyone. Case in point: Elon Musk.
posted by Harald74 at 2:01 AM on June 14 [69 favorites]


Ride bikes, fish, journal. Raise kids, play soccer. As my pawpaw said, why work?
posted by eustatic at 3:06 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


Really wondering how this applies to blue collar workers who have to be physically present and using their bodies to move physical goods around for the economy. Truck drivers, warehouse workers... we don't have longshoremen anymore because of shipping containers, but there's a lot of other work that is similar. That is basically all the work that has been considered "essential" during the shutdown. That's the work I do.

15 hours a week? I'd take that bargain. I just don't see it being something any business is doing anytime in my lifetime.
posted by hippybear at 3:12 AM on June 14 [15 favorites]


Really wondering how this applies to blue collar workers who have to be physically present and using their bodies to move physical goods around for the economy. Truck drivers, warehouse workers...
In simple terms?
More workers less billionaires.

Can we see what the sticking point is now?
posted by fullerine at 3:21 AM on June 14 [77 favorites]


If self-driving trucks could be made a thing....
posted by nat at 3:28 AM on June 14


If self-driving trucks could be made a thing....

They will still require humans to load them. I work with automobile glass -- windshields, door glass, etc. I have yet to see any inkling of how inspecting that and loading it into trucks, let alone delivering that, can be automated in any way that doesn't cost more than it does to make and sell it. Please share if you have any clues.
posted by hippybear at 3:31 AM on June 14 [10 favorites]


In Denmark, where the labour rules are the same as in Norway described by Harald74 above, truck driving is heavily regulated (for road safety). But obviously, you can't only drive the trucks for 7,5 hours a day if the distance takes 10 hours to reach*. Instead the drivers are supposed to work for a week (or whatever is needed) and then have the next week off. Unfortunately, some haulers use Polish drivers who will work more hours for less pay, and while in principle they are supposed to follow Danish rules in Denmark, there's a lot of cheating going on. I always vote for parties and individuals who are working for common EU labour regulations, and that may be coming closer now the UK is out.

*The law for this type of overwork is that you must get 11 hours of rest within every 24 hours
posted by mumimor at 3:45 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


No, I don’t have any ideas. I don’t really think self driving trucks are that close either.

However, the article has a lot to say about systems in Europe, so it doesn’t talk the big problem of health insurance in the US. Here, companies are heavily incentivized to hire as few workers as possible, and to work them as many hours as possible, because they have to pay for health insurance. Of course they could get contractors instead (and many places do, even skirting the law or blatantly ignoring it to do so) or get employees with under 20hrs a week, but then that just means the employees are the ones strongly incentivized to work as many hours as possible, because they need to pay for their own benefits.

But what if insurance, and retirement, and heck since the article mentions it a minimum income, were around? Well then the company might prefer to hire two 20hr/week workers, rather than one 40hr, because they’d be better rested and healthier and so on, and it wouldn’t be that much difference in cost. And if the top marginal tax rate were higher, then C-suite folks would be less incentivized to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their workers in the first place.
posted by nat at 3:46 AM on June 14 [25 favorites]


I have yet to see any inkling of how inspecting that and loading it into trucks, let alone delivering that, can be automated in any way that doesn't cost more than it does to make and sell it.
Simple answer?
Sell it for more.

Look, I'm being deliberately obtuse because I'm a dick but fundamentally there are simple answers to these questions but they do not fit into the structures and constraints which we think must be adhered to in answering them.

It should not cost me £1 for a pack of tomatoes which was flown to me from Portugal but that is the price because the process in place is configured for cheap goods and maximising profit. This process is considered the most effective because cheap goods and profit are considered the most laudable goals.

Reconsidering our goals changes the way in which we do things.

See also, Planet Earth since January.
posted by fullerine at 3:49 AM on June 14 [20 favorites]


I have yet to see any inkling of how inspecting that and loading it into trucks, let alone delivering that, can be automated in any way that doesn't cost more than it does to make and sell it. Please share if you have any clues.

I think material handling is really just about ironing out the kinks on what can be automated and what can't. Maybe some things never will be automated, but after working on the design of a distribution center, which included a Destuff-it, it seems like just being able to program and build machines able to handle things that aren't rectangular boxes. That distribution center had an AS/RS system, a whole variety of robotic forklifts, and a couple "robots" (in scare quotes because the whole building was basically a robot) that could unpack a pallet full of smaller boxes and put them into the conveyor system. There were plenty of manual tasks still around, but I'd guess there was at least a 60% reduction in staffing from 20 years ago for something that size. I don't know if those are the kinds of things you're including in your assessment or not.
posted by LionIndex at 3:49 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


The USA has the largest prison population in the world, thus the largest documented forced labor population. Probably have to stop forced labor if we want things to advance this far.
posted by eustatic at 4:22 AM on June 14 [29 favorites]


One thing I don't often see come up in these conversations is that splitting one job up into two so two part-time people can do can be rather disruptive. They have to learn to co-ordinate, and you either have to get two people to understand a problem rather than one, or accept that any solution will only advance on the days one of them is working.

On the other hand, I think there's a strong argument that many jobs, particularly knowledge work, have people working too many hours. Employers could have a 30 hour work week for some jobs and see a slight increase in productivity.

It should not cost me £1 for a pack of tomatoes which was flown to me from Portugal but that is the price because the process in place is configured for cheap goods and maximising profit. This process is considered the most effective because cheap goods and profit are considered the most laudable goals.

Generally price increases hit the people who have the least disposable income the hardest. It's a pretty urgent question whether they'd be able to afford more if you increase prices on shipping. We know that increasing the minimum wage largely works out, but making a specific industry more expensive that happens to deliver essential goods I'd imagine wouldn't.
posted by Merus at 4:35 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


If self-driving trucks could be made a thing....

The captalists could keep even more money! This is a social and political problem, not a technical one.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:41 AM on June 14 [54 favorites]


Something like nursing is a prime example. People need 24-hour shift care. You can break it into two people on 12-hour shifts (really 13 with shift handover time), three people on 8-hour shifts or four people on 6-hour shifts. The one that's going to give you better quality of care and lower burn-out from nurses is the most expensive in labour. (Paper linking medical errors to length of shift).
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:51 AM on June 14 [27 favorites]


I'm almost certain that our bosses would pay for 15 hours work a week, sure. Whether we're stopping work after 15 hours will be an entirely different thing...
posted by prismatic7 at 4:56 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


At 15 hours per week, I would just make rent and bills, not groceries or anything else. I’d have to get a second job at the same pay rate just to afford taxes on the first job, and be able to eat.
posted by drivingmenuts at 5:25 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


The idea is that you get the same pay as now, as you work less but with more productivity because of technology.
posted by mumimor at 5:46 AM on June 14 [13 favorites]


The implication is there will be no reduction in wages.
Which is usually the point where the cries of "unworkable" reach fever pitch.

Under the current economy, this is correct.

Less work and same pay is not sustainable in a system which maximises efficiency and profit.
It's pretty workable in one which maximises happiness and worker health though.
posted by fullerine at 5:48 AM on June 14 [30 favorites]


And it is possible. Right now the billionaires reap the gains off of technological improvements, specially in the Anglosphere. But it could as well be the workers.
posted by mumimor at 5:49 AM on June 14 [14 favorites]


Previously

The bottom line is, as Harald74 indicates, this will only come into effect due to collective bargaining and government protections. Corporate management has always strenuously resisted any change allowing workers more time off, because corporate management is genetically predisposed to being massively selfish assholes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:52 AM on June 14 [17 favorites]


Employers pay health care and benefit costs over a certain point, so once that cost is incurred, they want to maximize work from each individual. Health care should not be attached to employment. COBRA makes it marginally less stupid, but many can't afford it when unemployed. Every employee should earn vacation and sick pay, proportionate to their hours. Employee costs should be directly attached to pay and could easily be incremental. The distinction between salaried and hourly is increasingly nonsensical, and I suspect we'd be better off without it. If all work was fairly paid with benefits, employers could be more flexible with hours.

I love the idea, but I so frequently hear interesting ideas like this that sound as if we are moving in the direction of fairness and equity. I think we are moving steadily towards authoritarianism and peak capitalism, and these are dreams. Capitalism requires corporations to maximize shareholder value. How the hell that allows for massive C-level salaries is beyond me, but it isn't going to allow for being decent to employees.

also, meatbomb, thanks for te well-documented, thoughtful post.
posted by theora55 at 5:57 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


I apologize, it is moonorb's post and is well done.
posted by theora55 at 6:05 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


>Whatever happened to Keynes' 15-hour working week?

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=rAMH

Shows health care used to take 2 hrs/week -- 8AM to 10AM on Monday -- to pay, now it takes all of Monday and the first two hours of Tuesday too.

Housing used to take one day a week to pay, now it's a day and a half.

Housing and health care are sold on the bid in the USA, low bidding for the upper 3 quintiles isn't allowed* (the lower 2 quintiles gain some access to a parallel, but generally shitty, array of subsidized housing & healthcare options).

The nice-ish house my parents rented in the late 70s for $400/mo now rents for $2500/mo, a 6X price increase even though wages have "only" gone up 4X.

* you want a safe neighborhood, decent schools, access to good shopping etc ?? the price of all that nice stuff outside the lot lines will be in your rent / mortgage payment because that's how housing works
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:47 AM on June 14 [13 favorites]


If you want to see the 15-hour work-week, look at the time spent by many CEOs.

The sycophantic magazines have published these, thinking they explain how CEOs are "so busy." But a lot of that time is stuff that the rest of us don't get to count. Lunches. Travel. Going to the gym. Reading the news.

Meetings are a big time-sink, but if people are working 15-20 hours per week instead, folks will learn to include only those who really need to be present, and get down to business sooner.
posted by explosion at 7:17 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


Capitalism requires corporations to maximize shareholder value.

This is a late twen-cen development that I wouldn't be surprised to see reverse. I would more say that the key thing finance capitalism of the sort that has been steadily dissolving social bonds since the Amsterdam stock market requires is for corporations to pay back their loans. Which actually points even more in the direction of authoritarianism, IME: to the extent the executive/management equestrian class manages to capture a large fraction of the upside risk for itself within the firm (think say cushy off sites and office perks), the only thing that makes sense from the perspective of the entities making decisions about which sorts of structures to loan money to is to loan to structures with less perceived downside risk. And I would say in practice that when that's the criterion institutions that behave in abusive practices toward the human beings constituting them win out over those that treat people like people, because the expectation is that when the bad times come the former set of human beings will have less ability to improve their lives by moving to an alternative set of institutions.

The more the social arrangement of a resource is determined by the arrangement of some other resource, the more the social expectations of the first come to resemble the second. We currently rearrange productive capital mostly by means of creating and extinguishing interest bearing debt that it is the collateral for. And on the other side we mostly allocate individual access to consumed resources by means of creating new interest bearing debt backed by, essentially, threat of starvation if it's not serviced, usually with cash acquired by selling labor to be mixed with capital. This means that capital can only be moved to the extent debt can be moved, and relevant to this conversation that people can only continue to not starve to the extent they are able to issue new debt against their future income. They will best be able to do that if they are better protected from the risk of default caused by fluctuations in their ability to sell labor by having a higher baseline level of labor they sell. So for any given individual, there is a strong incentive to be the last person to agree to work fewer hours because to do otherwise is to increase the perception of the relative risk of default of that person's debt and therefore their starvation.

Debt financed resource distribution is why we can't have nice things. As long as people know that they are in danger of starving if they are perceived as at risk of inability to sell their labor in the future and know that other people are in the same situation, some large fraction of them will strenuously resist any reduction in the expected quantity of labor exchanged for money because they do not expect the reduction in hours to occur equally. They expect that some people will sell as much labor as they do now and some will sell none, and fear that they will fall out of the category of people with the ability to exchange labor for money.
posted by PMdixon at 7:20 AM on June 14 [11 favorites]


Corporate management has always strenuously resisted any change allowing workers more time off, because corporate management is genetically predisposed to being massively selfish assholes.

Them being selfish assholes assumes that the stuff they're doing is successfully selfish, that it's actually generating more production and value from workers. Lots of times corporate management doesn't even rise to that low bar and are just being assholes for its own sake, just pointless burning workers' lifespan for no gain to the firm.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:43 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Not at the 15-hours level yet, but this experiment was interesting.
posted by lollusc at 7:56 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Although the bits about employees being willing to work through lunch and do work tasks on their day off makes me wonder how much hours really did get reduced by.
posted by lollusc at 7:58 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Really wondering how this applies to blue collar workers who have to be physically present and using their bodies to move physical goods around for the economy. Truck drivers, warehouse workers...

In simple terms?
More workers less billionaires.


I live in the Ozarks. Driving around, I stumbled upon a huge house. Turns out, it's the 9th largest house in the United States. It's surrounded by horse stables the size of basket ball stadiums. The guy who built the house owns a trucking company. His workers used to come into my (now failed) business, and I knew from long experience (they had to list their place of employment on the credit reference) that their accounts would turn into collection accounts and then into uncollectable debt. Almost every time. Seeing that house I realized where all the money was going to. *NOT* the workers.
posted by jabah at 7:59 AM on June 14 [38 favorites]


Ride bikes, fish, journal. Raise kids, play soccer. As my pawpaw said, why work?

A scold approaches the laziest man in the village, who is lolling on the riverbank and daydreaming. “You should get a job!”

“Why?”

“So you can earn some money!”

“What would I do with it?”

“You would save this money for retirement!”

“Retirement?”

“Yes: after working hard for fifty years, you retire and no longer work.”

“What would I do then?”

“Well, you’d relax and do nothing.”

“I do nothing now!”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:09 AM on June 14 [24 favorites]


So how does that work with the non-office drone people? At some point, someone has to oil the gears and spin the 3/8ths Gripleys of the underpinnings and that can be some pretty specialized knowledge, gathered from long experience as opposed to classroom knowledge. How many of you here would know how to help a cow give birth by the side of a pond at 3AM in 25 degree weather (I had to do that when I was 12. It wasn’t fun, but it was interesting and totally convinced me that writing software was a much better job, since it’s far warmer and indoors, usually.)

Even my current job probably can’t be done in 15 hours per week simply because of thinking about stuff, much less writing the code. Building sensible databases isn’t hard hard, but only because I’ve been doing it for so long. Someone with less experience would take longer and create a ton of miserable work for some other poor slob.

The 15-hour work week sounds like the utopian dream of someone who didn’t do physical labor for their job and mostly sat around dreaming up schemes to get other people to have to work harder. It sounds like the scheme of someone already safely wealthy enough to not have to work.
posted by drivingmenuts at 8:46 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


So how does that work with the non-office drone people?

Y'know, if you would actually read the articles . . .
posted by soundguy99 at 8:54 AM on June 14 [15 favorites]


This issue is briefly discussed in The Joy of Revolution:
The Absurdity of Most Present-Day Labor
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 9:02 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


it seems impossible to achieve this without a substantial reduction in the centrality of market work to the achievement of a good life

Quite.
posted by flabdablet at 9:07 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


So how does that work with the non-office drone people?

Y'know, if you would actually read the articles . . .


I did read the articles and they seem to be coming from a place where "work" means sitting in front of a computer. They also don't seem to consider childcare as work. For many people, "more time with the family" does not mean more leisure time.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:24 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


They also don't seem to consider childcare as work. For many people, "more time with the family" does not mean more leisure time.

I agree - these discussions need to do a better job of teasing out the distinction between "less labor should happen in the context of an employment relationship," "a different mix of labor, e.g. less spreadsheet grooming and more childcare, should happen," and "there should be more leisure time and therefore less labor time in total." These are overlapping and reinforcing but not equivalent claims.
posted by PMdixon at 9:29 AM on June 14 [14 favorites]


You can go over why Keynes was so wrong and make a career out of it. In the end it doesn't really matter. The only real point was that he was fantastically wrong. Whatever his strengths, he had some serious weaknesses analyzing how humans actually behave.

At this point, the kind of "why don't we have a 15 hour work week?" is a question with the same seriousness as "why don't we have flying cars yet?" or "why isn't there a colony on Mars yet?"

I've explained this before when this topic comes up, and it does come up with some regularity. People usually aren't motivated in a way that would end in a 15 hour work week. If you're making $25 an hour for 40hrs a week, you earn $1000 a week. At 15 hrs a week, to make the same pay, you're earning $66.67 per hour. But at that rate, most regular people figure, why not work another 25hrs, and earn $2466 a week rather than $1000? This may seem perplexing to Mefites, but I can assure you, in my history as a worker, the incidence of people wanting to earn more by working more is far more common than not, regardless how much they earn.

Not to mention, lots of people actually like working.

Additionally, leisure time is costly, unless it's spent doing nothing. If your leisure hobbies are cheap or free, good for you. If it involves going places, seeing and doing things, you'll likely end up working more to see and do more things you enjoy.

These explanations might break Mefite brains, but it's not the first time I peg Mefites as not regular people.

Less work and same pay is not sustainable in a system which maximises efficiency and profit.
It's pretty workable in one which maximises happiness and worker health though.


You cannot get to less work and same pay unless you maximize efficiency and profit. If you think it's possible, show me the numbers. Even better, start a business venture, maximizing happiness and health for your workers, and demonstrate how such a workers paradise is actually viable.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:08 AM on June 14 [14 favorites]


At 15 hours per week, I would just make rent and bills, not groceries or anything else. I’d have to get a second job at the same pay rate just to afford taxes on the first job, and be able to eat.

Less work and same pay is not sustainable in a system which maximises efficiency and profit.


This is exactly why I think this will never, ever, ever happen in a billion years. You can't stay alive if you work less because ain't no way anyone will pay you the same money for less time. That's not in our culture. If automation was super great, we'd have a lot of people with no jobs and no money. If corporations could not have to hire humans and save tons of money, they'd do it. If a robot could do my job, I wouldn't have a job. Humans are bastards (especially the ones with power) and they're not going to do something this nice for everyone overall.

This article in aeon comes from 2012 and it just seems quaint in a year where most of the world is losing their jobs. I notice that for all the years that the concept has been brought back, things aren't changing, eh?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:10 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


All I can say is, I hope to be gone from the earth when all this extra free time and economic security causes another middle class baby boom.

Other than that im all for it.
posted by klanawa at 10:11 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


People usually aren't motivated in a way that would end in a 15 hour work week. If you're making $25 an hour for 40hrs a week, you earn $1000 a week. At 15 hrs a week, to make the same pay, you're earning $66.67 per hour. But at that rate, most regular people figure, why not work another 25hrs, and earn $2466 a week rather than $1000?

If "people" are so hellbent on earning as much as possible by working as many hours as possible, how come France can have a 35 hour week, and Scandinavian countries have a 37 hour week? How are those "people" different from the "people" you guys are thinking of?
My impression is that if "people" earn a living wage so they can pay their bills, buy the food they need and afford a holiday, they prefer not breaking their backs for some corporation. Or even for the nice owner of the corner store.
Some "people" are very preoccupied with material wealth, and will work long hours for it, but in my experience those are a minority. Working three jobs in order to just pay for a shared apartment is not that.
Some "people" (including myself for many years of my life) are very ambitious and work a lot, not for money, but for recognition. Some of them (including myself for many years of my life) earn next to nothing and don't mind.

In the US and UK, and most developing countries, far too many people are struggling to just survive on a basic wage, which leads to a distorted view of how life can be. Yes, in Norway a cucumber costs a frigging fortune, but Norwegians can afford it. (This is a Scandi joke. No one understands why cucumbers are so expensive in Norway).

For the last many wage negotiations here, the unions have looked as much for shorter hours as for higher pay, and they wouldn't do that if their members didn't agree. The negotiations have been about stuff like parental leave for fathers, extra holidays, leave for family care. No one has asked to go back to 60 hour work weeks.
But wait! Who is negotiating? The unions! Worker organisation is essential for fair pay and fair working hours. Only few people can handle that on their own.
posted by mumimor at 10:51 AM on June 14 [33 favorites]


And those few people are not Americans writing code ...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:02 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


You cannot get to less work and same pay unless you maximize efficiency and profit. If you think it's possible, show me the numbers. Even better, start a business venture, maximizing happiness and health for your workers, and demonstrate how such a workers paradise is actually viable.
Really? Maximising profit equals more pay to workers?
Efficiency I get, and hey, it turns out less worker burn out means more efficiency.

Profit though? You sure?
posted by fullerine at 11:03 AM on June 14 [18 favorites]


If you're making $25 an hour for 40hrs a week, you earn $1000 a week. At 15 hrs a week, to make the same pay, you're earning $66.67 per hour. But at that rate, most regular people figure, why not work another 25hrs, and earn $2466 a week rather than $1000? This may seem perplexing to Mefites, but I can assure you, in my history as a worker, the incidence of people wanting to earn more by working more is far more common than not, regardless how much they earn.

Materialism was a huge theme of the article. We work more and more so that we can buy more and more stuff. The article, though, says it thinks this trend is slowing down or even reversing with people buying smaller cars, smaller houses, and less stuff overall. Also, it's simply not true that people will always work more if they have more hours. The more money you earn, the money you need to go up the same amount of happiness(this is called "diminishing returns") . It varies by person, of course, but I remember reading some 15 years ago that $70K/year is the point at which most people cap out (that's about $100K today).

Although, to go backwards for a minute, a big part (not the only part) of the reason we don't have a standard 15 hour work week is because of materialism. If we lived like we did in 1930s, you could easily get away with 15 hours of paid work. No appliances, no computer, bungalow style home, a model-T car, 1930s medicine. Heck, even the 1950s, it was common to live in a 2 bedroom with 6 children. Going back even further, you could work for maybe 5 hours a week if you're willing to live like 1850s pioneers in a one-room cabin with no electricity or plumbing. Obviously, many of our modern conveniences are worth the extra work. But, a lot of them aren't.

The lot of the so-called hipster movement was originally about being anti-material. It's why people shopped at thrift stores, not to be cool, but as a statement against the need to continually buy new just so that you looked "in style." Of course, the hipster movement itself was largely co-opted by materialism - look at all the brand-new "ugly Christmas sweaters" they sell every year now. Novelty items you wear once or twice and throw away, instead of reusing an old sweater for years. But a lot of its original intent is still around, with people buying used furniture, smaller, older houses and keeping their cars longer.

All I can say is, I hope to be gone from the earth when all this extra free time and economic security causes another middle class baby boom.

Eh, it's unlikely more free time and economic security would cause a baby boom. The baby boom itself was a weird thing that was caused by a lot of events unlikely to repeat. First, was that people after WW2 felt an intense need to "repopulate" after all the death they'd seen. Historically, baby booms often follow large death tolls for this reason. At the same time, society was transitioning from a time when children were assets to a time when children were liabilities. Birth control was also still a pretty new thing, and people were getting married younger than before (again, due to being war survivors wanting to give themselves fairy tale endings). But, and most importantly, the child mortality rate was dropping. Historically, people really only want 1-3 children, but had more because so many children would die (in 1800, the child mortality rate for children under 5 was 50%). In the 1950s, though, the culture was still that you had a bunch of kids to account for death, but the death wasn't happening.

Now, though, people still just want 1-3 kids, but with the safety of knowing any offspring will survive and the ability to plan through contraception, they can more easily attain that number.
posted by Stargazey at 11:23 AM on June 14 [10 favorites]


Materialism was a huge theme of the article

So I work less, get paid decently but just can't buy things, because things are bad.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 11:26 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


It varies by person, of course, but I remember reading some 15 years ago that $70K/year is the point at which most people cap out (that's about $100K today).

To me, the really big jump is between having to worry about being able to make it to the end of the month, living in precacity to where your car's alternator dying is going to ruin you - and not. Anyone who says money can't buy happiness has not lived the first way. I guess the way the hedonic treadmill works, though, is that you get accustomed to your security and, relatively speaking, your luxury (I'm not "rich", I can't pay cash for a car, say, but if I decided I wanted to go buy a pound of halibut to cook for dinner tonight, I could do it, not problem - that's actually quite privileged), and become vulnerable to the illusion that your unhappiness can be fixed by increasing that level of comfort.
posted by thelonius at 12:04 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


So I work less, get paid decently but just can't buy things, because things are bad.

That's sort of facile, but to some degree yes, they are. Specifically Americans do buy (and waste) far too much shit, far too much house, far too much car. And work too much!

Materialism *is* actually part of the problem here, and so embedded that as usual a few commenters simply cannot imagine things being otherwise, despite living in a world where there are systems in which people actually do live otherwise - people also commenting on this very thread.

The predominant US coding culture in particular is toxic, and IME many of the true believers to all this scrumming and sprinting are either venture-bro levels of materialistic or suffering what amounts to what might be a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:10 PM on June 14 [20 favorites]


Obviously, many of our modern conveniences are worth the extra work. But, a lot of them aren't.

yup, the vacuum cleaner is a prime example, historically.

The lot of the so-called hipster movement was originally about being anti-material. It's why people shopped at thrift stores, not to be cool, but as a statement against the need to continually buy new just so that you looked "in style."

agreed. Also, money. Second hand goods are becoming a bigger thing...until covid....?
when I called my local thrift store they were booked solid, for two days. Also, the impulse to buy when selection is limited. example, wanted a TV stand. I'd get one for 7$ at a thrift shop and fixer up but during Quaritine, had to buy retail, i delayed buying because damn, 150$?

its ike saving money.
posted by clavdivs at 12:12 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Really wondering how this applies to blue collar workers who have to be physically present and using their bodies to move physical goods around for the economy. Truck drivers, warehouse workers...

Keynes was talking about blue collar workers. Just instead of 40 people working 15 hours a week now 15 people work 40 hours a week and the owners collect the other 1000 hours of wages.
posted by rodlymight at 12:49 PM on June 14 [19 favorites]


An important aspect of all of this which Keynes didn't really fully understand, and which hasn't come up in great detail yet in this thread, is the fact that we are social creatures. There's a combination of psychology and game theory at work here, too.

Keeping up with the Joneses is a real thing - that's why we have a label for it. When your neighbors have more material goods or conveniences, often that's a temptation for you to go get more of the same to keep up. I'm not justifying it, or saying I share it, but a lot of people do have this attitude.

And in some work environments, although of course not all, one's willingness to put in the extra hours or extra effort means you are more likely to get and keep a job, when it is a competitive environment for those jobs. I can't find the stats right now online, but I remember seeing a study showing that it was actually the white collar, high status, materially most comfortable tiers of society that were the most likely to be working even longer hours than they used to. Part of that is workplace competitiveness, part of that is personal ambition, or the intersection of the two.

And of course these forces apply at all levels of the economic ladder. We have the actual paperwork from my grandfather's battles against the union (he did skilled manual labor) during the Depression, when he wanted to take on a second job, but in order to preserve jobs for as many individuals as possible, the union was trying to prevent that. He wanted to make more money, though, and was willing to take on literally a second full-time job to do so.
posted by PhineasGage at 1:05 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I think there are a couple of things to take into account. One is that if you offer someone a choice between jobs, where at one job they make $50,000 per year and all their co-workers make $45,000 and at the other job they will make $55,000 and their coworkers will make $60,000 they will take the $50,000 every time.

Much of our motivation for work is in order to attain a position relative to other people. While there are millions of people working for subsistence wages very few people opt to work for subsistence wages in return for shorter hours. The ones that do are generally people who absolutely have to do so because they can't manage working full time for personal reasons, or ones who are opting out of society. I don't think we can count the ones who opt for a part time job they can barely live on so they have time to write or tend the kids or try to build up their own business because they are only opting out of income, not work.

The salient point of my first paragraph is that we are more concerned that other people do not get more than we do, than we are for preserving our own lives. We'll opt for that $50,000 job even if that puts us in the category where if we get sick we can't get afford medical treatment and die.

This translates to the fact that someone earning full time $35,000 at a job they don't particularly like is going to be incensed at the idea of other people being given a free basic income of $32,000 because they will correctly see that they are now working a full time job for $3,000 per year. They are not going to be on board with that.

The thing about money is that it's a form of power and the thing about work is that it's a form of submission. Money is the reason why 90% of us don't say "Take this job and shove it," and while many of us would like a different job rather than no job, we want jobs where nobody can tell us what to do. When we say we would still go on working after we win the lottery we mean that we would take up our hobby really seriously, or throw ourselves into making the world a better place, or go to the same old crappy office and be rude and contemptuous right back at our current boss instead of doing what that boss considers our job. We mean we would want something that felt meaningful to do, not that we would still stand at the high speed assembly line eviscerating and cutting apart chicken carcasses.

An awful lot of the social purpose of money is not the exchange of goods, but a simple way of communicating what our social position is and how much we can impose on others and how much others get to impose on us. In a primate troup the female primates do a lot of placatory grooming and the lower the status the more grooming they do. In humans the higher your income the more often you go to the hairdresser and the aesthetician. In a primate troop the big male moves meaningfully towards the less dominant primate and they move aside. In a humans the dominant primate says, "Get out front and set up the new display on the right of the door. I think it will look better there than beside the cash." Money is what tells us who to obey and when, and who we can order around and when. It keeps us from getting into scratching matches at the berry bushes.

If we just think of money as the means of ensuring we all get enough berries, we're assuming it's not necessary to communicate where we are in the hierarchy, at least not on the bottom end of things.

Money is what the apes at the high end of our social structure use to demonstrate their dominance over the rest of us. They express that dominance by depriving the rest of us of freedom of movement and berries. Our wages enable us to visit one or two badly picked over berry bushes, but not freedom of choice, only an illusion of choice. It's either withered blackberries or bright but tasteless raspberries. Take your pick and free shipping from Amazon with Amazon Prime. If all the quin-trillions of money being sat on by the wealthy in the world was suddenly being spent on trying to make as many people as possible safe, happy and well fed, we'd have a very different society indeed. But most of the money in the world is being sat on by people who are using it to make more money because they want to sit on a bigger pile with more zeroes in it, and the reason they are sitting on it is so that we can't have it. Their power comes from the things they are not doing with the money, like allowing it to fall into our hands. Once they spend it they lose the power inherent in having it. Money is potential. It's only good for them if they have more of it than other people and the bigger the difference between them and everyone poorer than them the more value it is to them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:06 PM on June 14 [20 favorites]


Materialism was a huge theme of the article. We work more and more so that we can buy more and more stuff.

Or, in the case of myself (guiltily) and many men I know, so that we can evade childcare and household labor. I can't speak to supply-chain hands-on labor, but in the realm of working at desks/in front of computers, there is a thing where men will "jokingly" "need" to work late, and it often coincides with a sick kid at home (unpleasant) or a spouse in a bad mood (lol no thank you).

A huge part of Americans' fetishizing work ethic as a virtue has to do with minimizing the role of (often female) caregiving in the home in favor of doing work for pay outside the home. But watch any episode of Mad Men or take in a bit of pop culture featuring men in a workplace, and it's clear that one of the punchlines is that men do not actually do that much work, so much as they spend time at a workplace while their spouse deals with housekeeping and childcare. And you know, not all men, etc. etc., but it is pretty baked-in that a culture of long office hours tends to favor men, both in terms of salary & advancement and in terms of rewards from the culture.

TL;DR I suspect that the idea of a shorter workweek does not appeal so much to people who use "office hours" as a fig leaf for not doing their share of domestic work, so why on earth would they stick their neck out to advocate for such a thing?
posted by witchen at 1:17 PM on June 14 [26 favorites]


Keeping up with the Joneses is a real thing - that's why we have a label for it.

Much of our motivation for work is in order to attain a position relative to other people.

It is possible to have alternative mechanisms of status signaling. Potlatches exist, for example.
posted by PMdixon at 1:32 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Housing costs? As the wealthy aggregate more money, they want to use it to make even more money. real estate, including residential real estate, is a popular investment, and prices for housing purchase and lease have gone way up.

Like to work? Sure. At whose cost? Are the people who make your meals paid fairly with health insurance, sick time, holidays, vacations? The people who clean your office & home, care for the lawns? The people who make and clean your clothes? The people who take care of your children are usually poorly paid with crap benefits. Quarantine has made it clear that many Americans lack basic skills, like cooking from scratch or with other than ideal ingredients, like how to make simple pancakes not from a mix. That's not so bad, except that fair pay is often absent.
posted by theora55 at 1:34 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


The thing about money is that it's a form of power and the thing about work is that it's a form of submission.

Of course - this is an elementary principle of the theory of sado-anarchism.
posted by thelonius at 1:34 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


Really? Maximising profit equals more pay to workers?
Efficiency I get, and hey, it turns out less worker burn out means more efficiency.

Profit though? You sure?


Without more profit, you sure as fuck aren't going to get more pay. That pay has to come from somewhere.

That's sort of facile, but to some degree yes, they are. Specifically Americans do buy (and waste) far too much shit, far too much house, far too much car. And work too much!

Materialism *is* actually part of the problem here, and so embedded that as usual a few commenters simply cannot imagine things being otherwise, despite living in a world where there are systems in which people actually do live otherwise - people also commenting on this very thread.


So you're admitting that the system isn't to blame so much as people... freely choosing to work more, in order to get more. And that's bad because asceticism should be the way people live? Sure, make that decision for yourself. Don't make that decision for me. And that doesn't even address the notion of working for one's own security, let alone leisure.

As I said, Mefites aren't regular people.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:34 PM on June 14 [4 favorites]


So you're admitting that the system isn't to blame so much as people... freely choosing to work more, in order to get more.

Yes we all remember learning about how the labor movements of 100 yrs ago successfully fought for the weekend to be reduced to 2 days.
posted by PMdixon at 1:44 PM on June 14 [20 favorites]


Keynes was talking about blue collar workers. Just instead of 40 people working 15 hours a week now 15 people work 40 hours a week and the owners collect the other 1000 hours of wages
Yes, and! Our productivity HAS gone up in the way it was predicted, but the lion's share of the gain has gone to the tiny percent at the top. If labor was paid more then, yeah, some prices might go up, but mostly there would be a shrinkage in the yacht market.

The 40 hour workweek is not naturally occurring; it's not a geological formation; it didn't spring forth fully formed from the crown of Zeus. Labor had to FIGHT for it, things used to be way worse. Because power itself is abusive, and power seeks power, and capital is a form of power.
TL;DR I suspect that the idea of a shorter workweek does not appeal so much to people who use "office hours" as a fig leaf for not doing their share of domestic work, so why on earth would they stick their neck out to advocate for such a thing?
Yeah, I remember how my first job was the best excuse I ever had. If I didn't want to see some shitty relatives who were in town for a day or to I could just say, "I have to work," and my dad would instantly go from "you ungrateful little shit," to "I'm proud of you son." It was like discovering a super power. Reinforcement like that is a direct cause of my C-PTSD. And it leads to this kind of performative work.

And I'd like to amplify aspersioncast's point above, about Stockholm Syndrome. Except for the very few at the top, we're all the victims of this toxic capitalism, not the perpetrators. It's the ocean we're all drowning in.
Without more profit, you sure as fuck aren't going to get more pay. That pay has to come from somewhere.
This reminds me of the people right now saying that if there were a Democratic president we'd have riots all the time. Like, look out the fucking window.

All the "more profit" is ALREADY THERE and it's going to the owners, not the workers. IT IS ALREADY THIS WAY.
posted by Horkus at 1:44 PM on June 14 [33 favorites]


So how does that work with the non-office drone people?

I see this question a lot whenever we discuss this kind of issue. Fundamentally the issue is that there are two related things here which people get mixed together.

The first is the well known fact that productivity in many kinds of work is not linear. I work 40ish hours a week, if I worked 80 hours I would not produce twice as much and if I was restricted to 20 I would produce more than half (because I would be laser focused during that time). Many people correctly point out that this applies to only some kinds of work.

Any job that requires physical presence, especially if it requires physical labour, has a much more linear output curve. People working those jobs obviously find the idea that their job could be done the way it is now in 15 hours a week laughable! It doesn't help that most people on this site have these kinds of desk jobs and often share personal anecdotes about how productive they and their teams are on shorter schedules than American office workers typically work. For people working blue-collar jobs it makes the whole concept sound fanciful, despite the fact that Keynes was actually talking about manufacturing jobs in the first place.

Keynes was actually talking about something else entirely, how we collectively use the increased productivity we gain over time. Productivity is output per hour, when it goes up society can use that increase in a two ways:

-Increase total returns to capital
-Increase total returns to labour

So far, so classically Marxist.

What Keynes missed is not just that capital's share would grow but also that there are multiple ways for labour to take its increased returns:

-Increased leisure (shorter working days)
-Increased leisure (shorter working week)
-Increased leisure (longer period retired)
-Increased leisure (removing children at progressively older ages from the labour force)
-Increased "leisure" by putting more time into childcare through maternity and paternity leaves
-Increased consumption by labour in cash coming in
-Increased consumption by labour in benefits (health) - this is just as true in countries with national health systems, the cash just flows differently

(An individual company can also pass the productivity savings onto their own customers but that doesn't apply to a society as a whole.)

Keynes looked at the trend in productivity growth and assumed that labour (collectively through unions and legislation) would take its cut of productivity chiefly through reduced number of hours working for money. That hasn't happened, a number of people in thread have got why exactly:

Keeping up with the Joneses is a real thing - that's why we have a label for it. When your neighbors have more material goods or conveniences, often that's a temptation for you to go get more of the same to keep up. I'm not justifying it, or saying I share it, but a lot of people do have this attitude.

Of course none of us would like to admit to coarse material competition but realistically, we live in societies and there are substantial costs to deciding not to play the game. That's why people who do this kind of things successfully are usually either weird loners or part of a subculture which shares their disdain for material things.

People in the 1930s often lived in much smaller houses with much larger families, had many fewer clothes, barely any domestic appliances, had basic diets. With the exception of the land rent component of rent and mortgages (land rent will suck all the oxygen out of any system and keep it for itself) a basic 1930s style life could be had today for very few hours of work indeed.

Nor will any individual business be able to do this even if they wanted to. It requires collective action. In practice it requires strong progressive taxation, not for the usual reason which is that there is a marginal declining utility of money and therefore it is fair to take a greater share from higher bands of income but because if you do not restrict consumption of productivity by labour as cash income, people will consume it that way.

If you want to work towards a 15 hour workweek you would want:

1) Measures taken through tax policy to reduce the share of productivity growth taken by capital.

2) Measures taken to transfer labour cash increases from productivity growth into other measures through steep progressive taxation.

3) Earlier retirement, longer funded periods of education. More public holidays. Mandatory paid holiday entitlements. All of these things come from the labour share of productivity but crucially they do not get taxed. Since you are taxing greater cash wages but not reduced hours, you shift consumption in this direction.

If you do these things then you divert gains from productivity growth into shorter working time. You also encourage more capital investment into things which increase output per labour hour. Of course, it is also quite an illiberal thing to do since you are deciding how the whole population will consume their share of productivity.

You also fix standard of living in a way that seems fine now (since we are used to our standard of living) but would seem dreadful if we looked back on that of the 1930s.
posted by atrazine at 1:47 PM on June 14 [10 favorites]


Yes we all remember learning about how the labor movements of 100 yrs ago successfully fought for the weekend to be reduced to 2 days.

I remember a specific labor movement of today successfully allocating overtime on the basis of seniority.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:55 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


As I said, Mefites aren't regular people.

There's a lot of different types of people in the world, but this kind of cliquey or inverse-cliquey stuff really makes it clear that the author is so parochial they have no idea how parochial they are.
posted by ambrosen at 2:00 PM on June 14 [13 favorites]


My only real incentive for working "more" is security: to have enough if I get sick or injured so that I don't become homeless. To be able to send my child to college/support them until they can self-support. To be able to have a comfortable old age after I can no longer work. My only way to do that now, and it's not very good, is to have savings that is a. enough and b. nothing happens to before I need it.

If we had real social safety nets, my need to work "extra" hours would vanish. I would still want to do work and accomplish things, but I would be motivated very differently and choose different (and less renumerative/more fulfilling) things to do.
posted by emjaybee at 2:03 PM on June 14 [21 favorites]


There are so many avenues where the extra pay can come from:

1. Switching from Employer Based Healthcare to Universal Healthcare. That's 7%-9% of GDP we could recover and reallocate to higher base pay.

2. The costs of overwork are immense. There's diminishing return to work. You get a whole lot more value those first fifteen hours of work than you do out of each additional hour worked. Unfortunately, between the high cost of benefits and no overtime protection for high-salaried workers, employers are instead incentivized to get the most value out of each individual worker, rather than maximize the amount of value out of each hour worked.

3. Executive pay. There's no reason to believe that corporate executives have become 2000% more effective in the last fifty years, yet their incomes keep rising. With low income taxes and the barest of oversight, there is currently no mechanism to keep this in check. The company is doing well? Increase their salary! The company is doing poorly? We need to offer an insane amount of money to recruit someone to turn the ship around!

4. A switch to more equitable domestic labor. Working less means more time to provide childcare, cook meals at home, be your own maid. At the very least, if men actually contributed more to domestic labor, they might learn to value it.

The economics of a shorter work week can absolutely work. But our current institutions are absolutely standing in the way.
posted by politikitty at 2:03 PM on June 14 [25 favorites]


PhineasGage: An important aspect of all of this which Keynes didn't really fully understand, and which hasn't come up in great detail yet in this thread, is the fact that we are social creatures. There's a combination of psychology and game theory at work here, too.

Exactly. Juliet Schor's The Overworked American describes the zero-sum dynamic of trying to achieve higher social status. It's a classic arms-race collective action problem. Joseph Heath:
Schor sets out to explain how it could be that Americans, despite increasing affluence, have also suffered a decline in leisure time.This would not be mysterious if Americans simply wanted to work more. But the increase in work time has generally coincided with growing complaints about overwork. Many Americans, it turns out, are working more than they would like. In a similar vein, many are also complaining about overspending. When asked, many Americans claim that they are spending more, and saving less, than they know they should. ...

The solution to the puzzle, according to Schor, lies in the fact that many consumer goods have primarily comparative value. People use their paycheques not only to purchase goods that are intrinsically desirable,but also to acquire what economists sometimes refer to as ‘positional goods’. A positional good is one which derives some significant fraction of its value from a comparison with others. ...

Suppose that two neighbors are working a standard week, and driving modest sedans. However, by putting in a bit of overtime, it is possible for each to buy a more expensive car, say an SUV. Suppose further that the extra status associated with being the only one to own such a vehicle is of greater value than the foregone leisure time, and that the humiliation associated with being the only one not to own such a vehicle is worse than the loss of leisure. ... Both neighbors will decide to work harder, either to get the extra status, or just to avoid the humiliation. As a result, they will wind upright back where they started – both driving the same type of car, both having the same relative status – except that now they will be working harder in order to maintain their lifestyle. Thus the outcome produced through status competition is inferior, from both of the participants’ perspectives, to the situation that initially obtained.
There's a couple implications of this perspective. One is that a great deal of economic growth is largely absorbed by competitive consumption, and so it doesn't actually lead to any substantial increase in overall welfare - everyone's trying to improve their social status, and failing. Heath suggests that it makes more sense to increase spending on public goods that aren't subject to competitive consumption: primary education, reduced congestion, better air quality, other environmental goods.

I seem to recall that leisure is (mostly) not subject to competitive consumption - it's (mostly) not a positional good. There's certainly status competition over vacations, but I don't need to have a more expensive vacation than my peers to enjoy it.

So why don't more people cut back their hours? It's not easy when you're part of a team. Arlie Russell Hochschild describes the problem in The Time Bind. Heath:
The Time Bind is based upon Hochschild’s study of a large American corporation — referred to as “Amerco” to protect the anonymity of her sources — that was trying to create a workplace that would better accommodate employees with child-care responsibilities. … despite making a wide range of such programs available to its employees, rates of participation were abysmally low. Hochschild set out to discover how the following three facts could obtain: “First, Amerco’s workers declared on survey after survey that they were strained to the limit. Second, the company offered them policies that would allow them to cut back. Third, almost no one cut back.”

… Upon investigation, Hochschild was able to quickly dismiss the standard explanations for these low participation rates. There was no correlation, for instance, between income level and participation rate, making it difficult to make the case that employees chose not to work part-time because they could not afford it. Hochschild also found that the policies were not just “window-dressing,” but that a good-faith effort had been made to implement them. And perhaps more importantly, the majority of employees believed that the company was making a good-faith effort.

What Hochschild ultimately found was that most employees did not take advantage of the alternative work arrangements because it was not in their interest to do so. It’s one thing to go part-time when your job involves stacking boxes in a warehouse. Here you are clearly being paid an hour’s wage for an hour’s work. But this “market” model of the labour contract is clearly inapplicable to [many] jobs. In most corporations, employees do not exchange money for discrete units of time. They are paid to become members of a team. Their salary is paid in exchange for their cooperation — the willingness to place the firm’s interest above their own. Once this exchange is made, employees are expected to throw themselves into any project with all the energy and enthusiasm they can muster.

If we think of employment as teamwork … then it is easy to see why part-time work is not a solution. The problem with teamwork is that it doesn’t allow for degrees. Either you’re in or you’re out. Either you’re there for the others or you’re not. To form a cohesive group, people need to know that they can rely on each other when the crunch comes. When someone chooses to work part-time, it sends all the wrong signals. It suggests that they are not “really” committed to the team, and that when push comes to shove, they can’t be relied upon.
posted by russilwvong at 2:16 PM on June 14 [13 favorites]


Also, I really don't understand the hub-bub about office drones vs physical laborers.

You need more than 15 hours of week availability? You just hire more workers. Our labor participation rate isn't so high that they aren't available.

And if blue collar work paid a living wage, you'd see a lot more people leaving the office to do hands-on work.

This could potentially have wider effects. If we are less dependent on high salaried positions, it might reverse the trend of having high paid jobs limited to dense cities that put stress on housing costs. And a larger workforce in rural communities means a wider consumer base, making them more sustainable.
posted by politikitty at 2:17 PM on June 14 [14 favorites]


More on a great deal of economic growth is largely absorbed by competitive consumption, and so it doesn't actually lead to any substantial increase in overall welfare Luxury Fever is another pretty good accessible modern take.

But Keynes would have read Veblen.
posted by clew at 2:49 PM on June 14


clew: Luxury Fever is another pretty good accessible modern take.

Thanks, added to my list of books to read!
posted by russilwvong at 3:37 PM on June 14


Money is a social scoreboard, but it also represents resources.
Take the old '8 Hours Labor, 8 Hours Leisure, 8 Hours Rest' slogan from the campaign for a shorter workday.
Assume Rest requires a bed and someplace warm and dry to put it, meaning housing, heating, a minimum number of calories per day, etc.
Assume Leisure (sometimes Recreation) is 'free time', to do with as you will. Maybe you want to play the banjo, or grow roses, maybe you want to put on pretty clothes and go dancing. Very few of our Leisure activities come with zero expenditure; the resources for wigs or pianos or custom auto parts have to come from somewhere.
That leaves your remaining 8 Hours Labor with the task of producing enough resources to subsidize the essentials of Rest, and then a 'surplus' to use as discretionary spending for one's Leisure.
You've got to produce enough in 8 hours that you can live off it for the other 16 each day. Does my math check out so far?

So if you want a three day work week, you'll need to produce four days and seven nights worth of resources to consume, within three days of labor.
Which you could do by consuming less. Or producing more.

"But I don't WANT to consume less resources in Leisure and Rest - the whole point was to RAISE the standard of living, which means cozier bedrooms and frozen cocktails on the beach for all!"
Well then you've got to be more productive with your Labor hours, obviously.
"But we ARE more productive with our Labor hours! Productivity gains and crop yields have skyrocketed! It's just that the millionaires are taking the differential and making themselves billionaires!"

So take it back. Outlaw billionaires. Stop arguing over Earned Wage Minimums and start fighting for Wealth Accrual Maximums.
"But if we're used to keeping score with money, and we put a cap on accruing it, people won't try so hard! There are Really Big Things we all need / use / love that only exist because someone wanted to get rich and famous!"
Pshaw. We can still leverage personal ambition into public goods, even if we cap the amount of wealth to retain. Score keepers gonna keep score. Carnegie libraries, Zuckerberg hospitals, same-same. You get to a certain dollar level, you're just trying to show off more zeroes than the other guy. Eliminate the zeroes, and they'll be fighting over who endowed the better museum or cancer clinic or made the Ganges drinkable or took the first shit in a Martian toilet with their own money. You do that by saying spend it or we'll take it.

Short of a world where everyone's got a solar powered industrial replicator in their pocket...it's either consume less, produce more, or plug the leaks between production and consumption.
And contrary to water, money leaks upwards, so start at the top instead of working from the bottom. Stop demanding more crumbs on the floor, and make it impossible for one person to hold the loaf over head.
posted by bartleby at 3:43 PM on June 14 [19 favorites]


So you're admitting that the system isn't to blame so much as people

I make no such admission and I'm not sure how someone could get that from the statement "despite living in a world where there are systems in which people actually do live otherwise" [emphasis added].

Mefites aren't regular people
I'm sorry, I don't think anyone in this thread gets to be the "regular people" Lorax.

if you offer someone a choice between jobs, where at one job they make $50,000 per year and all their co-workers make $45,000 and at the other job they will make $55,000 and their coworkers will make $60,000 they will take the $50,000 every time

Citation needed. This sounds plausible, but so many things do. Neither have I seen any such experiment performed, nor do many people in fact have any idea what their coworkers make.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:49 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]


You've got to produce enough in 8 hours that you can live off it for the other 16 each day. Does my math check out so far?

Yes, because of economies of scale. If you're hand-making widgets in a cottage, you'll struggle, but if you're part of a widget assembly line, you and your coworkers can churn out enough for all of society, and leave you time for dancing or growing roses (or going hunting or participating in political critique, as Lenin(?) put it).

This is basic Adam Smith pin-manufacturing stuff that's printed on British £20 notes, btw.
posted by acb at 3:51 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]


As I said, Mefites aren't regular people.

Well, I'm a straight cis-het middle-aged white guy whose job swings between blue collar and white collar - am I fucking "regular people" enough for you?

That phrase is appalling, insulting, and ignorant.

Don't you DARE fucking sit there and try to tell us what "regular people" want. Don't you DARE sit there and tell me what I fucking want.

Because in the first place, if the last three years and especially the last three months and ESPECIALLY this past month have taught us anything, it's that we need a serious fucking recalibration of who the fuck counts as "regular people."

So you don't get to spew some nonsense about what supposed "truths" you think you've gleaned from watching "regular people", because you haven't been watching "regular people."

In the second place, if we're gonna trade anecdotes as evidence, I'd be willing to bet actual money that I've met and talked to far more people than you have, in far more walks of life and economic circumstances and job situations. Your assertion that "regular people" will inevitably work as much as they possibly can to make as much money as they can without consideration for anything else is simply not borne out by my own encounters with people. Some people feel this way. Lots don't.

Tah-Daaaah! I've now provided as much "proof" as you have, for a position opposite yours - that "regular people' will not inevitably choose to work as many hours & make as much money as they possibly can.

And in the THIRD goddamn place, all of this crap you're spitting about how "regular people" will maximize income at the expense of everything else is ignoring the simple basic fact that all of these "regular people" are trying to function within an economic system that HAS BEEN SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED, MANIPULATED, AND PRODDED for most if not all of their working lives - since Ronald Reagan, at least - to maximize the income of the already rich. Period.

All of us "regular people" are fucking hostages to an economic system and set of beliefs that is indifferent to our well-being AT BEST - and more often than not actively hostile.

Is it any wonder that some not-insignificant percentage of those "regular people" will try to maximize their income in that situation? Why would they not?

Of course, it's no proof that they will behave the same way if we realign our social and economic systems to provide functional standards of living that don't require 40+ hours a week of work just to maybe keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

Get outta here with that "regular people" bullshit. Go peddle it to the National Review or the Heritage Foundation or some other group of rich white people who worship Ayn Rand and cherry-pick Adam Smith in order to justify their greed.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:03 PM on June 14 [46 favorites]


❤️
posted by PMdixon at 4:09 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Now THAT would be a great survey research project for Cortex to initiate. I bet we would all be interested to learn the demographic and opinion breakouts of this site.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:35 PM on June 14


If you're making $25 an hour for 40hrs a week, you earn $1000 a week. At 15 hrs a week, to make the same pay, you're earning $66.67 per hour. But at that rate, most regular people figure, why not work another 25hrs, and earn $2466 a week rather than $1000?

Hmm, perhaps if we thought about another way to structure society? If wages were lower, but we had universal healthcare, universal basic income, and additional housing stipends, then you might have someone earning $1000/week for existing, and then perhaps securing a job for additional spending money at $20/hr.

If you can work a 15 hour work week for $1300/week, or a 40 hour work week for $1800/week, the incentive to work more and more is reduced.
posted by explosion at 5:04 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Perhaps also a steeply graduated income tax!
posted by clew at 5:17 PM on June 14 [9 favorites]




Prove it? easy!

2N, this is really not complicated, like at all. I can provide pages and pages of data, studies and logical argument about how this all came to be. But the reality is very different than what you've laid out. Basically there's a fixed amount of 'value' that moves slowly upward as tech improves and the different actors duke it out for the % allocation. The neoliberals call it 'monopoly' and the historians call it 'class warfare', but it's all the same. The combination of digitization and financialization have swung the small gains after WW2 way, way back towards the minute population of people who have leveraged them.

This is a good summary
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:39 PM on June 14 [10 favorites]


The reason why productivity hasn’t shortened workweeks is that we don’t have enough of it - it has mainly only increased for low-level work, and high-level workers set the cultural and commercial tone, and consumption has increased even faster so income needs have supported long(er) hours.

When productivity starts to impact high-level functions and really kicks in across consumables and capital to cut real prices dramatically, then people will work less. A lot less.
posted by MattD at 7:51 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


These sort of assertions get conspiratorial

This is so uncharitable, I can't pretend you're trying to argue in good faith.

Especially when your argument basically boils down to "But everyone loves money. If we give people more money, they'll just decide to work more."

Let them. But also let them experience a genuinely progressive marginal income tax rate. Make employees pay overtime when they are asking workers to work more than 30 hours a week, and see how often they ask. Switch the costs of health insurance to the government, so we reduce the cost of hiring additional staff.

These are structural institutions that make an economy otherwise favor a longer work week. There's no conspiracy. It's just rudimentary understanding of economics, and how firms respond to incentives.

An important fact about Keynes' prediction is that it exists in a post-scarcity society. A world that has gotten so wealthy there is no hunger or housing insecurity. People are working for pocket change, because consumer goods are achievable with only 15 hours of labor.

We might not be there yet. But the world has gotten a lot wealthier in the last 100 years. So why not ask what we're getting from that extra wealth. And how it's distributed. And how we might be able to envision a workforce where the work hours are distributed to more people to provide additional wealth to a wider population and reduce inequality.

Too many people in America are still living in a scarcity model. Saying "let them work longer hours" has proven to be a broken model. So step aside and consider other market interventions.
posted by politikitty at 7:56 PM on June 14 [12 favorites]


it has mainly only increased for low-level work

billg and sjobs would like a word with you

consumption has increased even faster so income needs have supported long(er) hours

Thing is, housing + health care is everyone's largest life expense and guess what -- there's precious little consumption going on as the COGS in these sectors is not what prices are based on much at all, rather mere ability to pay the rent/bill/mortgage. cf "monopoly" above -- it's not just a shitty boardgame, it's how our economy is structured from the bottom up.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 7:56 PM on June 14


But the world has gotten a lot wealthier in the last 100 years.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=rCdN

2.5X since 1950, yes
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 7:58 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


and additional housing stipends

not just stipends (give everyone $1000 for housing and rents will just go up $1000), but sufficient supply of quality housing such that there were no "rents" associated with housing, people would in fact be paying for actual depreciation of the fixed improvement.

The bad news is this is rather incompatible with everyone having that 6000' suburban microfief, oversupply can only come with building up, as has been done in the crowded but relatively affordable urban areas of Asia.

Germany got to that point in the postwar, but sorta lost the plot and let the rent-seekers back in unfortunately.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 8:08 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


If we had real social safety nets, my need to work "extra" hours would vanish.

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/norwegians-millionaires-norways-sovereign-wealth-fund/story?id=21488085

Norwegians invested their oil trillions in capital ownership and indirect wealth like hospitals and educational institutions.

Here in the US we, like the nation of children we are, let private capital capture most of the value of our common mineral wealth ownership, though the secret socialists up in Alaska do have their token yearly royalty payouts.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 8:19 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


we, like the nation of children we are

if you kids don't stop squabbling back there I'm stopping this bicycle right here
posted by flabdablet at 9:40 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


[Comment and a reply removed, couple replies left. If you can't manage your end of a conversation without essentially goading people, stop and figure out a better way to engage here.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:10 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


The reason why productivity hasn’t shortened workweeks is that we don’t have enough of it - it has mainly only increased for low-level work, and high-level workers set the cultural and commercial tone, and consumption has increased even faster so income needs have supported long(er) hours.

When productivity starts to impact high-level functions and really kicks in across consumables and capital to cut real prices dramatically, then people will work less. A lot less.


I do agree that productivity hasn't had as much impact on office jobs as we might think. Despite decades of looking for it, there is no evidence that email and computers improve the productivity of office work. Stunning, right? Anyway, productivity of most office work is quite hard to measure anyway.

I don't agree that there hasn't been an impact. Look at the impact of e-discovery on elite BigLaw ways of working. It's vastly decreased the amount of work required to do discovery. Has that resulted in fees remaining the same but lawyers working fewer hours? Nope, it's all been passed over to customers as lower fees. Higher productivity in finance has mainly allowed new kinds of products and transactions to exist as well as removing whole classes of brokers, dealers, and salesmen in all but the most illiquid markets. You can't really look at productivity per industry like this because in the absence of an external legislative force, single-industry productivity growth goes mostly to reducing costs to customers.

If we had real social safety nets, my need to work "extra" hours would vanish.

I now can't find the reference, but I have read a paper in the past that attempted to calculate what % of income people at various levels tend to spend on "security". That's basically work done in order to squirrel away capital just in case something bad happens. It's obviously quite inefficient for individuals to try and do this rather than have collective mechanisms of security. That's because of the utility curve of money - individually, as you run out of money its marginal utility gets extremely high because the consequence of financial ruin are very serious. For that reason, people rationally store away much more than the average person needs because the consequences of shortfall are so great.

It reminds me of a discussion I had recently where a friend was trying to value his military pension (US) It's a defined benefit type schemes and if you want to know how much they're worth, you can try and price a market equivalent scheme. You swiftly run into the issue that it is impossible to buy such a complete risk transfer for such a long time.

The US scheme in particular allows for 50% final salary after 20 years service, my friend was in a scheme which no-longer exists which counts time spent in education towards the 20. (It usually does not but this particular scheme requires agreeing to serve in a nuclear role while still in engineering school, if you don't pass nuclear school you still have to serve an enlistment, if you do you come in as an officer). That meant he retired after 21 years at the age of 40. He wondered if financially it would not have been better to go straight into a lucrative private sector role rather than spend those years on a nuclear submarine.

The conclusion we came to is almost certainly not, precisely because of the insurance value of that lifetime pension. It is extremely unlikely that you accumulate enough money in the private sector over that time to equal the real market value of a guaranteed inflation adjusted payout that.

The significance of this is that we should be providing much more in the way of safety nets and that the utility benefit is much higher than the cash cost / cash benefit because of the high marginal utility of money in situations where you don't need it.
posted by atrazine at 12:29 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


As I said, Mefites aren't regular people.

Well I know I'm not.

For one thing, I like the work I do and if I didn't do it would spend substantial time doing things which overlapped with what I do now for money.

That's extremely abnormal compared to the average person! Most people in the world work at jobs that they do not like very much.
posted by atrazine at 12:31 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


> it seems impossible to achieve this without a substantial reduction in the centrality of market work to the achievement of a good life

Quite.


@ianbremmer: "What would you do with an extra 1k a month? Universal basic income isn't a new idea in the US. Remember when MLK talked about a guaranteed annual income? I explain the history."[1]

> And contrary to water, money leaks upwards, so start at the top instead of working from the bottom. Stop demanding more crumbs on the floor, and make it impossible for one person to hold the loaf over head.

Learn To Love Trillion-Dollar Deficits - "Our country's myth about federal debt, explained."
At any point in time, every economy faces a sort of speed limit, regulated by the availability of its real productive resources — the state of technology and the quantity and quality of its land, workers, factories, machines and other materials. If any government tries to spend too much into an economy that’s already running at full speed, inflation will accelerate. So there are limits. However, the limits are not in our government’s ability to spend money or to sustain large deficits. What M.M.T. does is distinguish the real limits from wrongheaded, self-imposed constraints.
Modern Monetary Theory: Neither modern, nor monetary, nor (mainly) theoretical? - "The real cost of any program is the extra real resources that the program requires for implementation."

> Housing used to take one day a week to pay, now it's a day and a half.

Haves and Have Nots: The Real Real Estate State and Artificial Scarcity, Technology and Planning - "The easiest way to create a dependent class is to price them out of the real estate markets."

Ben Franklin on Labor Economics (or how to create an underclass) - "In Countries fully settled... those who cannot get Land, must Labour for others that have it; when Labourers are plenty, their Wages Will be low; by low Wages a Family is supported with Difficulty; this Difficulty deters many from Marriage, who therefore long continue Servants and single..." nowadays, it isn't so much land, or even capital (negative interest rates' prevalence maybe suggests a surfeit ;) but attention that is 'artificially' -- in that it doesn't need to be -- scarce. if 'wealth' is essentially "the accumulation of solutions to human problems" then spreading it as widely as possible[2] should be in everyone's interest! the nature of public goods -- like healthcare, vaccination, education, opensource technological know-how, parks and recreation -- is such that the more people who have it, the more we all can benefit! the problem, as i see it, is the aforementioned loaf-lording.

> One is that a great deal of economic growth is largely absorbed by competitive consumption, and so it doesn't actually lead to any substantial increase in overall welfare - everyone's trying to improve their social status, and failing.

one solution to cutting down on counterproductive zero-sum status (and rent) seeking is progressive consumption taxation[3]

or, of course, you could just give everyone loaves! or the means to make them :P
Labor Day: From the Job Loop to the Knowledge Loop (via Universal Basic Income) - "We work so we can buy stuff. The more we work, the more we can buy. And the more is available to buy, the more of an incentive there is to work. We have been led to believe that one cannot exist without the other. At the macro level we are obsessed with growth (or lack thereof) in consumption and employment. At the individual level we spend the bulk of our time awake working and much of the rest of it consuming."
I see it differently. The real lack of imagination is to think that we must be stuck in the job loop simply because we have been in it for a century and a half. This is to confuse the existing system with humanity’s purpose.

Labor is not what humans are here for. Instead of the job loop we should be spending more of our time and attention in the knowledge loop [learn->create->share]... if we do not continue to generate knowledge we will all suffer a fate similar to previous human societies that have gone nearly extinct, such as the Easter Islanders.[4] There are tremendous threats, eg climate change and infectious disease, and opportunities, eg machine learning and individualized medicine, ahead of us. Generating more knowledge is how we defend against the threats and seize the opportunities.[5]
posted by kliuless at 1:56 AM on June 15 [25 favorites]


Truly, kliuless, you are the 2N3055 of cited reasoning.
posted by flabdablet at 2:10 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Excellent links kliuless.

It think it's important when we propose ideas that sound utopian to explain the limits of them as well. It is much more convincing to explain MMT in terms of the constraints set by real production capacity than as "free money" because people intuitively get that:

-You cannot eat food that simply hasn't been grown and no fancy new theory is going to fix that
-There are constraints upon our existing economic policy that are other than physical

Macroeconomics is really all about how to resolve the issue of having land and other inputs to produce food but there somehow not being enough produced. (substitute any service or good for food)

MMT is a slightly different spin on how we think about those constraints. That does mean, for instance, that MMT does not mean we can do the Green New Deal "for free" in an economy with nearly full employment (if you can remember such a thing!) without taking resources away from things we were already doing. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, but MMT doesn't make it free.
posted by atrazine at 3:33 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I do agree that productivity hasn't had as much impact on office jobs as we might think. Despite decades of looking for it, there is no evidence that email and computers improve the productivity of office work. Stunning, right? Anyway, productivity of most office work is quite hard to measure anyway.

What, this is the exact opposite in my experience! I may have told this story before, I had an office job at an old factory built 70 years ago, in the "Accounting and Finance" office that was there since the beginning. There are 50 desks there. The job however, only takes 4 people nowadays, so we just occupy the 4 corner desks and leave the other 46 empty. Fun times.

In the olden days, there were no calculators. So you had literal human calculators who sat there and did sums for you. You had to collect time cards by hand from 3,000 factory workers, every day, get them counted, and paid out - in cash, individually, as they lined up to collect it. Never mind the complexity of doing inventory, taxes, trade receivables / payables... each car that rolled off the line had about 2,000 end item parts on it, purchased at different prices at different times depending whether you did LIFO / FIFO / Weighted Average cost.

I'd say it's fair to say over 90% of our jobs were eliminated due to increased productivity, and we accomplish literally magnitudes more today in cost tracking, forecasting, audit, etc.
posted by xdvesper at 3:41 AM on June 15 [11 favorites]


If you're making $25 an hour for 40hrs a week, you earn $1000 a week. At 15 hrs a week, to make the same pay, you're earning $66.67 per hour. But at that rate, most regular people figure, why not work another 25hrs, and earn $2466 a week rather than $1000?

Well this is simply the marginal utility of each additional hour worked, factoring in marginal taxes. If you're on high or even average income in Australia I'd argue many people are already at that point.

On the high end - I know dentists who work just 1 day a week doing tooth implants (at $6000 per tooth) because they value the leisure time more than working a 2nd day in the week.

On the mid-high end - for multinational corporations or banking, you get $100k for an analyst, $115k for a senior analyst, and $140k for a manager. Marginal taxes at those rates are 40% all in, so the bump in going to a senior analyst is only $9k per year. Plenty of people don't bother because the effort vs reward just isn't there. Wages are compressed in some industries because unions negotiate worker pay but exclude management, which leads to a transfer of income between workers and management. Wages are compressed overall because marginal taxes are high, so there's no point throwing money at the problem of staff retention - you retain staff far better simply by treating them humanely. Giving someone an extra $10,000 isn't going to make them stay if they were going to leave anyway.

On the low-mid end - definitely. I could see someone on minimum wage ($40k per year) up to about $86k per year (median full time wages in Australia) wanting to work more if they were earning their current wage at 15 hours per week, so that's fully half the workforce. It's really not outside the realm of possibility that if there were even more wage compression - and minimum wage were raised closer to where the median is now, via income and wealth redistribution from the end - they would also be in a position to work 15 hours a week.
posted by xdvesper at 3:57 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


I know, which is why it's so unbelievable. I should have been more specific - there is evidence on computers improving productivity, just not email.

That isn't because email doesn't make things faster, but its theorised that it created so much additional non-productive work that it has completely offset the positive effect.

We don't really know why for sure but empirically it seems to be the case that the widespread adoption of email did not lead to productivity gains.
posted by atrazine at 4:02 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


On the high end - I know dentists who work just 1 day a week doing tooth implants (at $6000 per tooth) because they value the leisure time more than working a 2nd day in the week.


I think part of the challenge is so many well paying jobs do not seem to have that option. Whether that is because people are being paid to be members of a team or some other weird labour market distortion, I don't know.

Logically of course most jobs should be possible part time with no effect on career progression other than a strictly proportional one, sadly for whatever reason that seems often not to be the case. I do have plenty of colleagues who work part time though in an industry (consulting) where that used to be rare but is now much more common.
posted by atrazine at 4:06 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


Despite decades of looking for it, there is no evidence that email and computers improve the productivity of office work. Stunning, right?

The typing pool might have a different view.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:32 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


The typing pool might have a different view.

The problem is that making communications so easy meant that people do a lot more of it and "eat up" a lot of the gains. If I had to ask someone else to take dictation and type documents for me instead of emailing I might do one or two memos or letters a day. I'm a sparse emailer but that is still an order of magnitude difference. For some people it is two or three.
posted by atrazine at 5:29 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


And in some work environments, although of course not all, one's willingness to put in the extra hours or extra effort means you are more likely to get and keep a job, when it is a competitive environment for those jobs.

That, and it's not just money we compete for, it's prestige. Look at how we talk about money. Someone who makes a lot of money is "successful." Someone who works a lot of hours is "ambitious." Someone at a job where they are unlikely to get a raise or promotion is working a "dead end" job. Thus, the problem isn't just one of putting in better social nets, it's one of attitude.

When we say we would still go on working after we win the lottery we mean that we would take up our hobby really seriously, or throw ourselves into making the world a better place, or go to the same old crappy office and be rude and contemptuous right back at our current boss instead of doing what that boss considers our job. We mean we would want something that felt meaningful to do, not that we would still stand at the high speed assembly line eviscerating and cutting apart chicken carcasses.

On other hand, trust fund babies often end up very unhappy because they have no motivation to stick through the crappy parts of jobs or schooling. Most of us if we have a crappy boss, stay there long enough to get experience that we can get enough skill to find another job. Someone who is independently wealthy just quits, and 15 years later, they have a patchy resume without any real accomplishments. (Although, the happy ones are the ones that throw themselves into philanthropy, it's thought this makes them happy not so much as they are helping others necessarily, but they are building something).

freely choosing to work more, in order to get more


The issue is that you can end up in a race to the bottom without labor laws and it doesn't become so much a "free choice" anymore. People in 1890 worked 14 hours days, 7 days a week, without breaks because that's all employers offered. It was better than working a farm because it offered more security (and farms needed less laborers due to new tech). In a true free market, each side as equal bargaining power, but in most employer/employee situations, the employer has much more power. This is why unions were invented, to equalize the bargaining power. Labor laws are like unions on a bigger scale.

security: to have enough if I get sick or injured so that I don't become homeless. To be able to send my child to college/support them until they can self-support

Those are good goals, don't get me wrong, but it's also shown that most people will always see more they need. We just aren't a content species overall. I remember reading once that a billionaire once said he wouldn't feel secure until he could have $100 billion in the bank. He needed the money so that he could send his kids to private school, so they could get into Ivy Leagues, and he needed money to pay for similar educations for all his grandchildren. He wanted trust funds so that his kids and grandchildren would be financially secure. He wanted enough money he could buy a house for everyone. He wanted to be able to pay for the best treatment if any of his family members got sick. He wanted to give his parents the retirement they deserved. And if you become rich enough that all of those things are possible, next you'll want enough money you can eliminate polio, build your own private space force, etc.
posted by Stargazey at 6:36 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


QFFT: productivity HAS gone up in the way it was predicted, but the lion's share of the gain has gone to the tiny percent at the top
and
If labor was paid more then, yeah, some prices might go up, but mostly there would be a shrinkage in the yacht market.

posted by theora55 at 11:26 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I've worked in a factory, not long, but factory work is usually hard; reducing the work week while preserving pay would be fantastic. The new factories are call centers, retail, warehouses, cleaners, servers, all the service work. It is hard work. Call center staff are chairbound, warehouse workers are on their feet and moving, retail workers are with customers, stocking shelves, etc. It's all heavily monitored and employees must meet speeds; it is grueling. They are usually willing to work more, because they really need the pay, but reduced hours would be so great. The idea that many of these workers with back-breaking jobs wouldn't be able to cope with fewer hours is nutty. They need fair pay and fair benefits.
posted by theora55 at 11:34 AM on June 15 [12 favorites]


I'd say it's fair to say over 90% of our jobs were eliminated due to increased productivity, and we accomplish literally magnitudes more today in cost tracking, forecasting, audit, etc.

Another of the immense productivity boosters of the 90s to now has been the substitution of a factory floor with a UPS receiving warehouse.

Remember this:

'Made in China' labels hidden at Bush event

That warehouse was in the St Louis area (rightwing owner later went BK of course).

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/STLMFG shows this productivity gain came at the cost of 100,000 shop jobs just . . . gone . . . in St Louis alone.

If this graph is any trend:

https://www.bea.gov/news/2020/us-international-investment-position-fourth-quarter-and-year-2019

the Chinese will be working 15-hour days decades before us, as owning capital is how you get leisure in any economy, and guess who owns whom!
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 2:02 PM on June 15


At the other end of the spectrum is the 996 system in China. That is, 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days per week which works out to 72 hours per week, mostly for tech workers. I bring this up to say that the weekend, which seems well established and that it would be impossible for it to go away, isn't. It's very much a product of organized labor.

It's possible that moving to a four-day work week is what the US economy will need to recover from the pandemic. (Which is not over, though that's a different topic.) The sticking point is that healthcare and retirement and all the benefits of being a "full-time" employee are currently tied to working a 40-hour work week (39 won't cut it), so unless we are able to force that change, 40-hour weeks aren't going anywhere.
posted by fragmede at 2:28 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


The sticking point is that healthcare and retirement and all the benefits of being a "full-time" employee are currently tied to working a 40-hour work week (39 won't cut it)

This is not actually true:
For purposes of the employer shared responsibility provisions, a full-time employee is, for a calendar month, an employee employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week, or 130 hours of service per month.
An employer may try to define anybody working less than 40 hours as part-time, but the government doesn't buy it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:17 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


I work in a public library, which has seen HUGE gains in productively thanks to technology over the years. It used to be that for every book returned we would have to go through "charge boxes" of hundreds/thousands of the little pieces of paper (library book cards) that you used to write your name on. A slight misfiling may take hours to undo. I automated several libraries so that barcodes on the books and and library cards eliminated the old book cards for a huge productively gain. A decade or so ago the public library I was at brought in RFID - basically, instead of scanning each book once to check it into the library when it was returned we could scan ten at once! When I showed an 65+ year old staff member the first time she was amazed! A book truck that previously would have taken her almost an hour to complete could now be done in 15 mins. As soon as I showed her, bless her soul, she turned to me so excited and said "wow! I get to have an extra long smoke break every hour now!" And I said yes and let her have the time. Why SHOULDN'T she benefit from the gains in productivity?

At the moment I am helping my daughter rest up her midwifery clinic that will open in about three years (lots of paperwork and bureaucracy and conversations about organisation's structure etc). Now, most places - UK, US, AUS, NZ etc that we have looked at have a different model of midwifery. Basically, you have shifts, you show up for the shifts and that is your 40 hours. Since we are in Canada the model is 35 hours, but the funding (universal healthcare) isn't by hour. It is by "course of care", with a maximum of 40 clients in a year. When a pregnant person is accepted as a midwifery client, the Ontario Government pays a set amount for the pregnant persons care - there are guidelines about meeting for 30 - 45 mins, and frequency of appointments (so many in third trimester, post natal etc) but there is a huge flexibility in how individual clinics schedule that time - recognizing that there needs to be a significant amount of time "on-call" for emergencies and births. Since there can be a problem of smaller clinics just expecting the midwives to be "on-call" 24/7 and never having a life we are looking at the ways that a minimum number of scheduled appointments with lots of off-call time balanced with the necessary on-call. Thanks to the pandemic, technology use has accelerated with a lot more time-saving virtual appointments (because the care is provided in the client's home there could be an hour+ commute between clients). So that is one example of non-office work that can shift from an hourly definition to less hours and increasing quality of output.

I think we can be really creative about shifting away from our current paradigm - especially if government and health care services embrace it as set a high standard for caring for their employees.
posted by saucysault at 5:22 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


If the minimum wage was decent and people could get healthcare, pro-rated sick/vaca time, pension contribution on reduced hours, I think workers would be happier and healthier, people could be with their kids. When I grew up families needed 1 fulltime worker. Now families have 2 fulltime workers. I hate it when we're losing ground. I was a single parent with no child support for 13 of the 18 years of raising my kid and it was constant hustle, worry, scrimping. The US is full of wealth, squirreled away, gated communities, yachts, and most people living paycheck to paycheck.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]


the funding (universal healthcare) isn't by hour. It is by "course of care", with a maximum of 40 clients in a year

That's an interesting approach. It only works if the calculation of how long a person would spend with each client is generously calculated and there's no culture of expanding the services provided to fill a nominal number of weekly hours.

At the university I work at, in my school teaching requirements are not calculated based on hours of teaching we are supposed to do, but rather number of students we are supposed to teach. So, for example, someone might be expected for example to "produce the equivalent of 140 fully taught students" per year. (Note that "fully taught" means the equivalent of them each having 8 classes worth of face-to-face lecture and tutorial hours, assessments marked, necessary meetings with the professor, and email communications/online resources provided). Another with a high research loading might be required to produce only the equivalent of 20 fully taught students. One (of many) problems with this approach is that teaching can take as many hours as you are willing to put into it, so without reducing the cultural expectations on how many hours an academic should work per week, measuring by student vs by hours is kind of irrelevant.
posted by lollusc at 12:29 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


On other hand, trust fund babies often end up very unhappy because they have no motivation to stick through the crappy parts of jobs or schooling. Most of us if we have a crappy boss, stay there long enough to get experience that we can get enough skill to find another job. Someone who is independently wealthy just quits, and 15 years later, they have a patchy resume without any real accomplishments. (Although, the happy ones are the ones that throw themselves into philanthropy, it's thought this makes them happy not so much as they are helping others necessarily, but they are building something

That matches my experience as well. Of the "don't really have to work" people I know from school, they fit into a few categories:

-Work anyway at a real job, several are doctors, a few in charities. It has to be something that they can take seriously enough to derive drive from.

-Take a hobby so seriously that it might as well be a job. Collect something odd, take masters course after masters course (if you're on your fifth postgraduate degree - that's a hobby), breed falcons, get very competitive at field sports.

-Join the military or follow in another family tradition of public service

-End up addicted to drugs.

You'd think that some would end up just coasting, doing nothing but play video games and watching TV (which is after all how many normal people spend their leisure time) without spiraling into drug addiction or other trouble but I haven't seen it. For some reason that doesn't seem to be a stable configuration for people with all the time in the world.
posted by atrazine at 1:56 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]


For some reason that doesn't seem to be a stable configuration for people with all the time in the world.

Add in "fiddling on the Internet" and that has been a pretty stable lifestyle for me for 10 years or more now.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:10 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


US unemployment rates May 2020

Women:
White 11.9%
Black 17.2%
Asian 16.7%
Hispanic 19.5%

Men:
White 9.7%
Black 15.8%
Asian 13.3%
Hispanic 15.5%

-Pew

By contrast, EU's safety net for employers and employees has resulted in less dramatic unemployment numbers.
The coronavirus crisis has clobbered all European economies, but most have avoided a severe spike in unemployment. That's in part because of government programs that directly subsidize workers' wages while also incentivizing employers to keep workers on the payroll by reducing their hours. This approach has shielded much of Europe from the kind of unemployment calamity that's plaguing the United States, where the jobless rate has increased sixfold since January and is now more than double that of the Euro area. Here's a look at how European job markets have fared in the time of coronavirus.
Short-time work: A vital tool in Germany's economic armory against coronavirus
Kurzarbeit, which roughly translates as "short-time work" ... enables companies drastically affected in a downturn to either send their workers home or significantly reduce their hours without having to lay them off. Workers will still receive a significant chunk of their wages, with the state stepping in to cover much of the shortfall.

If a company avails of the scheme, workers are laid off temporarily but will still be paid. Their employers receive Kurzarbeitergeld or "short-term work money" from the Federal Employment Agency (BA), which is also responsible for paying unemployment benefits. The government will pay 60% of the salary workers received before the crisis, or 67% if they have children.

If and when the crisis abates, workers can then return to their full employment status without having had to be let go. The idea behind the scheme is primarily to stave off unemployment for firms and workers grappling with a crisis which is not their fault. It also means companies that have invested much in their workers' education and training do not lose valuable know-how which will be needed again in the future.
Why Germany's reduced hours scheme won't work long term - "Kurzarbeit has been a lifeline for businesses and workers during the short, sharp economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic. But if business activity doesn't snap back, much higher unemployment is inevitable."
posted by kliuless at 7:11 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Do we need to work less to save the world? "We know we need to consume less for the good of the planet, but what if those sacrifices were balanced against the incentive of shorter working hours? The pandemic could hold lessons for how we think about work."
Philipp Frey of the German Center for Emancipatory Technology Studies says there are lessons to be learned from all this, for the good of both people and planet. Last year, he authored a headline-grabbing study suggesting that to prevent climate collapse, Europeans should go down to a nine-hour working week...

In a system gearing toward profit and growth, we reward work that turns resources into products and waste, and neglect the human and ecological "nutritious base," as Margarita Mediavilla, professor of systems engineering at the University of Valladolid in Spain, calls it.

"Collapse happens when the base weakens and the system tries to keep growing," Mediavilla said. "Our society has already entered a pattern of collapse and a pattern of over-exploitation." COVID-19, she adds, "increases even more our fragility, and shows the pattern of collapse even more clearly."

Mediavilla says traditional societies aimed to work only as much as necessary to meet the needs of the population and cared for the natural resources on which their livelihoods depended. In contrast, today's "junkie economy," hooked on cheap oil, cheap labor and cheap resources, "needs to produce more and more in order for people to have a decent living."[1]

Ecologically minded proponents of UBI say it would give workers greater power to reject jobs that are bad for their own wellbeing or that of the planet. It would also grant financial Independence to those who do vital unpaid labor and give more of us the opportunity to engage in activities like volunteering, community gardening and grassroots organizing of resources outside the market economy... UBI is also put forward as a solution to people being put out of work by technological developments such as artificial intelligence, as seen in a recent video by Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis, who proposes funding UBI through dividends from corporate profits rather than taxes on labor.

In his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes predicted automation would mean we would only need to work a 15-hour week. Frey says Keynes and others of his time, "underestimated how much consumption might be extended." Now, we should be seriously questioning what all this consumption is for.

"What's our main focus?" Frey asks. "Is it to satisfy human needs using as little ecological resources as possible? Or is [the economy] organized in such a way that pushes maximum turnover and corporate profits?" ...he advocates a redistribution of the kind of work we do, alongside a managed reduction of the working week toward 20 or 24 hours — a level studies suggest is also optimal for workers' health and productivity.
posted by kliuless at 12:34 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


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